How goes it for everyone today? Whether you are currently traveling to your end of summer vacation, sitting at your desk and waiting for it to get here or just trying to kill time until you need actually be productive, I've got something to help with that. Hopefully you find it useful and perhaps gets the gears turning upstairs.
It’s likely that you’ve noticed with my training, I like to have people pick up heavy objects. Whether that’s your cup of tea or not there’s one thing that can help with that (and many other things), grip strength. Even if you loathe the idea of picking up something heavier than the small dog you keep in your bag, it’s still a good idea to get some of this in. This isn’t just for those people that could probably use a firmer handshake either, though there’s a few out there. Really it comes down to do you want to keep the health of your joints in your arm, wrist and all the way on up, in tact? Do you like the joints in your arm not hurting? Then you probably need to at least maintain, if not increase your grip strength.
Some of you that have been following me may have noticed I've had my battles with my grip strength in recent times. When you have a problem like this, you either learn a bit about it or nothing ever changes, so of course I've taken notes on ways to attack this. Also, yes please have your laugh now and then we can move on….you know what I’m talking about.
When you force yourself, or are forced to, squeeze something really hard, you’ll be really shocked at what other muscles will light up in your arm, not including the ones having to do with your hands, can anyone say rotator cuff?
Here are 6 exercises or variations that will help you with your grip strength;
Fat Bar Bent Over Rows- Fat bars and fat grips really force those pincer muscles to work hard, they'll make a pretty moderate weight (RPE=5/6) feel like a working weight (RPE=7/8) in a hurry. Here I've gone with a bent over row, of course you can use this for any movement that requires you to grab a bar.
KB Bottoms Up Bench Press- Bottoms up technique will make that forearm and all the way up work real hard just to maintain the position at a stand still, let alone through a movement. I went with a bench press, but you could also do this with an over head press, floor press or single arm variations of these. Important to remember if it feels like the bell is going to constantly flop over out of position (and potentially on your skull) don't be a hero, go down to a weight you can maintain the bell in that bottoms up position.
KB Farmer's Carry- If you've been following me for longer than 5 seconds, it's no secret that I love me some carries. Lot's of upside here, a bit of axial loading, a good metabolic effects (fancy way of saying it's a lot of work) and....wait what was the other thing? Oh right, works that grip pretty good too. Kettlebells are one of several implements you can use, dumbbells, farmer's handles, plates. You can also go one armed and do a suitcase carry. Give the weight a death grip and control it, don't let it control you or you're looking at bad news.
KB Bottoms Up Carry- Let's combine the previous two movements into one, with a bottoms up carry. Same rules with the bottoms up presses, if you can't keep the bells in position and from potentially smashing something important on you, dial it down. Try to keep your elbows up and in front, don't let the ribs flare out and take your time. Watch that arm and shoulder light up like the 4th of July.
Towel Grip Bench Row- Towel grip work is certainly not a new technique to the S&C universe. Pretty basic concept here, you have to grip things just a little extra harder because towels tend to fit int your hand a little more awkwardly than a bar. I've gone with a simple row here, but of course you can do things like chin-ups & pull-ups, inverted rows and the list goes on.
Heavy Deadlifts and RDLs- I mean what's one thing that's going to help you hold on to heavy weight? Picking up heavy weight. I've gone with RDLs here because you need to hold the weight throughout the entirety of the set without any pause or break, no matter how brief, but that's not to say a deadlift off the floor won't help.
Some may wonder, what type of volume should you be looking at with these? Like any type of training, using varying volumes provides different benefits, so I wouldn’t get locked into a particular rep range, use them all.
A few of these techniques are also a good way to take the load down with a lift, but keep the it challenging. If you're constantly going hard and starting to wear out, consider getting acquainted with one of these techniques.
Of course, this not a comprehensive list of exercises and techniques that can help with your grip strength, and training in general, but just wanted to give a few examples. Hopefully this has helped you spark a new idea for your training and that's all I can ask for. Until next time everyone, go out there, pick up something heavy and get after it!
Happy Thursday to you all! Forgive me if I'm a bit excited, big tournament for my rugby club this weekend and if you can't tell, I'm excited. I’m going to answer the question posed in the title, in the most boring way possible, by saying you don't HAVE to, but it you can if it works for you. I say this because if you are not a power lifter or someone that needs to use the back squat in a competition of sorts, then you probably don’t NEED to. Can you? Sure, but there’s a few things that need to work for you, to back squat properly, and unless you are lucky enough to have a specialty bar or two at your disposal, then you may need to reconsider.
Things to consider; What is your thoracic mobility like? Do you have shoulder pain? Are your ankles stiff like they’re in a pair of cement shoes? Is the Illuminati going to rise up?
In any case (except for that last one) if there’s pain with it and/or the movement mechanics look off, the answer is probably a hard no. At least for a bit or until you can get your hands on a specialty bar.
Some coaches would have you believe not being able to back squat is the end of the universe, it’s not. Other coaches would have you believe doing a back squat is the end of the universe, that isn’t either. Other other coaches would have you chuck out bilateral squats entirely, again, a big bucket of nope. It’s entirely about what works for you, your body and your goals.
Let me just remind everyone before they think I’m hating on the backs squat and I’m just a front squat junky of sorts. I’m not, matter of fact front squats and I fight every time we see each other, but I know it works well for my body mechanics. I’m also lucky enough to have access to those aforementioned specialty bars. So I’m not married to one
Before you completely throw the back squat out of the rotation, consider a specialty bar like these, if you can get your hands on them.
And just so you can see what they look like in action.
Alternatives after these are front loaded and single leg variations.
These are by no means, all there is to choose from and work with, these are just some I gravitate towards for clients. There are many variations of these out there to play with, too. Point being, if you can’t back squat because of pain, or simply can’t bilateral squat because of pain, there’s an alternative out there for you. Match the variation to you, or if you’re not sure, seek out a professional that can help you.
Thanks for reading everyone, hopefully this gave some a little help and didn’t muddy things up in everyone’s brain (too badly at least).
Jarrod Dyke, CSCS